People have been predicting the end of the album since Napster allowed us to pick just the songs we wanted. Those death cries just got louder when iTunes presented is almost-100% a la carte shopping experience. And now with streaming, the idea of deconstructing a collection of songs into its constituent parts is something with do without even thinking.
So is the album dead? Not yet. It’s not feeling well, but it hasn’t flatlined yet for a couple of reasons.
- A big chunk of the music industry is still based on the concept of the album: recording, marketing, distribution, sales, sales metrics, awards.
- Lots of people are still used to buying albums. When it comes to pop and rock, this is a purchasing habit that goes back to the middle 60s. It’s a hard habit to break.
The Economist goes even deeper.
JOURNALISTS often lament the death of the physical album at the hands of music streaming services. Why bother to buy a CD, a vinyl record, or even a full-length digital download when songs can be selected one-by-one, or curated by a service like Apple Radio, often free of charge? Adele’s latest album, “25”, sold 5.98m copies in its first month but was not available on major streaming services such as Apple Music and Spotify. By comparison, Red Hot Chili Peppers’ fifth studio album “Blood Sugar Sex Magik” sold 13m copies in 1991.
Yet musicians from all corners of the industry—mainstream, middle-tier, independent, up-and-coming—continue to create albums. They are artistic statements, and build a body of work that artists can not only be proud of, but build tours around. Spotify suggests that albums are still worth artists’ while on a fiscal level, even though they pay rights holders a seemingly measly sum of $0.006 and $0.0084 per stream. In 2013, they estimated that monthly royalties for a niche indie album were more than $3,000, $17,000 for a rock album, and $145,000 for a top-ten album. Global breakthrough albums could reap around $400,000.